“Music is sacred!” If there’s one takeaway from this year’s Coachella, Jack White’s fiery declaration to the packed Saturday main stage crowd would be it. After a weekend of musical bliss, Coachella 2015 has become one of my favorite Coachellas, for too many reasons to put adequately into words. I’ll try my best to capture the essence of my experience in this recap, focusing not just on the music but the festival as a whole. Enjoy!
The Journey to the Desert
Our group of four woke up early on Friday morning to start our Coachella weekend – and by early I mean 3 am early! Every year, the drive to Coachella is a journey in itself, and this year’s was no exception. We paired up and switched off driving duties, catching quick naps in between and even stopping for a hearty breakfast at Denny’s along the way.
We made great time, arriving in Palm Springs after 8 hours of driving past sleepy farmlands, highway towns, and barren deserts. After dropping off our stuff at the hotel, we were on our way to Indio for Coachella 2015!
The Festival Grounds
As one of the largest music festivals in the U.S., Coachella has the budget to deck out its music festival with some ridiculous art installations, stage setups, and attractions. For three days, the Empire Polo Club was transformed into a dream world, a musical Disneyland for adults.
Overall the setup this year was similar to setups from years past, with a few minor adjustments. Gone was the giant Spaceman from 2014 – in its place a giant and colorful caterpillar roamed the festival grounds, eventually transforming into a giant butterfly by the final day. The iconic Ferris wheel moved but still had a prominent spot on the festival grounds. There were even more food stands and trucks, but I stuck with $10 chicken and sausage paella that weekend (it was delicious and filling).
Looking at pictures only, it’s difficult to realize that Coachella is in the middle of a desert, and most people dress accordingly for the sun. There’s the standard festival garb, from bro tanks to bohemian-chic getups, with plenty of band shirts thrown into the mix. Out for this year were the crazier rave costumes and Native American headdresses (thank goodness, and about time). In for this year were throwback NBA jerseys. It quickly became clear to me that people with these jerseys were playing a game of who could rock the most obscure NBA player from before the 1990s.
Music Festival Game Plan
- Make a mental list of can’t miss sets (I had 3)
- Don’t plan too much on the other performances or activities
- Enjoy music and have a blast
Our awesome group this year was gun-ho from the get-go on experiencing as much of the music the festival had to offer. We ended up taking a Costco sampling approach, checking out interesting sets and staying longer for the great ones and the can’t miss ones. Even though it was exhausting, I was in music heaven! My awesome group was super chill with splitting up for conflicts and meeting up after sets, so this was the year I was able to get the most out of my personal must-see list.
All in all I ended up seeing 35 performances, ranging from quick pass-throughs to entire sets. They’re listed below by day with asterisks marking sets that I stayed at the entire time. Have I already mentioned that I was in music heaven?
- Action Bronson
- Lil B
- Charles Bradley
- Azealia Banks*
- Raekwon and Ghostface Killah
- The War on Drugs
- Alabama Shakes*
- Tame Impala
- Flying Lotus
- Clean Bandit*
- Toro y Moi
- Cashmere Cat*
- Run the Jewels*
- Father John Misty
- Jack White*
- The Weeknd
- Annie Mac
- Panda Bear
- Sturgill Simpson*
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent
- Jamie xx*
- Florence + the Machine
There were too many great performances to cover in detail for the purpose of this recap, so I’ll do my best to pick out a few of my favorites by days. All 3 of my can’t-miss sets made it in, as well as several jaw-droppingly good sets.
As we headed to the Outdoor Stage Friday afternoon, we could hear rapping coming from a recording being played over the loudspeakers. As we drew nearer, we saw the Based God himself, Lil B, acting as his own hype man while his recorded rapping played in the background track. If that doesn’t give a glimpse into how awesome (and troll-y) Lil B is, I don’t know what will. Scratch that – how about playing elevator easy-listening music in the middle of his set as confusing bystanders tried dancing to the non-existent beat?
Azealia Banks had a high-energy set, complete with skillful rapping, back up dancers, and a level of showmanship I haven’t seen in a long time. I was thoroughly impressed by how perfectly executed all the songs were, and I enjoyed the overall production, which had bits and pieces of Afro-Caribbean music, hip hop samples, and even a nice cover of an Ariel Pink song.
I’d hyped up Alabama Shakes to my friends before the festival, and the group’s live performance was even better than I’d imagined. Lead singer Brittany Howard has an amazing, soulful voice that fit well with the blues and soul-influenced rock and roll the band played. I had chills going down my spine as she hit high note after high note, and I left that performance knowing that I’d experienced something otherworldly.
As one of my most anticipated Coachella performances, AC/DC did not disappoint. I have to say, 67-year-old Brian Johnson’s voice ages like fine wine, or more appropriately a casket of whiskey about to be blown up in a gunfight. The legends performed all their classics, and in between scorching solos coming from Angus Young’s guitar, the performance also saw cannon fire, fireworks, a giant bell from hell, and so much more.
On Saturday I encountered what I believe is the perfect electronica performance. Cashmere Cat started his set slowly, and as he drew the crowd into his sounds, gradually built the energy up into a dance frenzy before ending with some chiller tracks. I loved the pacing and thought to myself that more electronica DJs and producers should consider this style for their own sets.
As I stood in eager anticipation for Jack White‘s set later that evening, I realized that I had been listening to his music for pretty much half my life. As he and his band entered the Main Stage and fired up their instruments, I was immediately transported to the wonderful sounds of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and Jack White’s solo works. He gave a performance for the ages, rocking out to classics and new songs alike, interacting with the crowd, and jamming with his band members.
Sunday started off much more low key, and I considered myself lucky to be part of the smaller crowd watching Sturgill Simpson play some psychedelic country tunes with his band. Looking around, I realized how awesome it was to support talented, up-and-coming bands – being able to fully enjoy good music in an intimate setting, without worrying about fighting for space or finding a decent view.
Madeon marked one of the few times this year that I ventured into the Sahara tent, and it was time well-spent. The crowd started to dance as soon as the first beat dropped, and did not stop dancing until the final notes from the talented 20-year-old’s flawless set ended. No need for people to say in words because we all knew – this was great electronic dance music!
And finally I discovered the type of electronic music I really vibe to – the more downtempo, classic house-influenced UK stuff, well-represented by Jamie xx. His set felt like an underground club, with strobe lights, flashing colors of the rainbow, and wonderful dance music. I would go to another one of his sets in a heartbeat.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – the three days at Coachella are some of my favorite days of the year! This has been the case every single year I’ve gone, which says something about the quality of the music and the organization of the festival planners. It was my fourth time at the music festival this year, and it just keeps on getting better. No year is exactly the same, and every year brings interesting new sights and sounds, new experiences, and new insights.
I need to give a shout out to my amazing group. From the road trips to the manic set hopping to the crazy and funny happenings in between, hanging out with Jay, Michelle, and Liz made my Coachella that much more memorable and enjoyable. You guys rock, and here’s to future concerts and festivals!
Good vibes, great people, and amazing music – Coachella 2015 was such a blast!
For some interesting previous Coachella articles and recaps, check out the Coachella archive from my blog!